A Little About the Author

I’ve had a few blogs in the past (read: random fashion and lifestyle blogging whilst I was completing my studies), but nothing quite like I Hit Hard. Although I’d like this to be a space where many women can share their stories, I guess it would be a good idea to start with my own.

I skimmed the surface of my own journey in the I Hit Hard About page, but really, that’s just to give you an indication of why this website, and your experiences, are so important to me and to each other, within the fight community. I’d like to continue to use this space to leave a trail of notes about my ongoing journey, because I think that there are incredible commonalities between women, and their experiences, in the martial arts world, and I would feel humbled if even one other women would find mine useful or informative for their own path.

Although I’ve moved in and out of martial arts since I was around 8, I think that journey was not my own until I decided to look for a martial arts gym myself in September of 2016. At the time, I hadn’t stepped into a dojo or martial arts gym since I was 16.

For context – at 16, my dad had enrolled me in Jiu Jitsu classes whilst we were living on the Isle of Wight. I knew a little Japanese, and was looking forward to starting a Japanese martial art where I’d be able to practice the language along the way. I felt shy stepping into the dojo, everything felt unfamiliar, and there was no one else there my age.

In fact, I was the only girl there besides a very elderly woman who, credit to her, came regularly to train in spite of her limited mobility. We were more often than not partnered together, and this was a relief – the men in the class scared me. They stared at me in a way that I recognised as predatory. There was one man in particular who would often try to partner with me; he would sweat terribly and stare at my chest the entire lesson, never looking me in the face. It terrified me and I cried at home before every class. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents why I hated attending Jiu Jitsu so much. I felt conflicted, as a part of me simultaneously enjoyed what we covered in class – I loved the striking drills, and learning to use nunchakus was both a novelty and a challenge for 16 year old me.

I quit Jiu Jitsu. It wasn’t the art that was wrong for me, but the dojo. I’ve overcome a lot of different hurdles since then. I’ve struggled with generalised anxiety and depression for several years, as well as debilitating body and self-esteem issues. It has only been in the past 2 years or so that, through my own love and the love of those around me, I have nurtured a confidence and belief in myself that I’ve never had before.

It was at that time that I met my boyfriend, Taimour. Seeing his passion for Muay Thai, which he had been practicing for 6 years, made me want to rejoin a martial arts dojo again. Jiu jitsu, at this point, was no longer my primary interest. Having read the works and biography of Bruce Lee, I was on the look out for something akin to Jeet Kune Do. I wanted to think about functionality, conditioning and power.

My dad and I sat down in September 2016 and decided to find the ideal dojo for me by finding a Sensei who is a part of Bruce Lee’s legacy. My dad insisted that this is often the best way to find good trainers, particularly for JKD. There are several martial artists who operate in the UK and carry his legacy, having been trained by students of Bruce Lee, or their students.

A few places stuck out at the time, one being Bob Breen’s Academy. Master Bob Breen is a legend, having been trained by Dan Inasanto who was a key proponent of the Kali system, and one of Bruce Lee’s most successful students.

Another, was Bushin. Bushin’s head coach, Sensei Cailey Barker had been trained under Bob Breen himself and has black belts in a variety of different martial arts including JKD, Shorinji Kempo and Wing Chun. Other than Sensei’s lineage, there was something else that attracted me to Bushin straight away: the woman fighter in the promo video. I was completely awe struck by her – facing off three men in a dark alley with ease, disarming one of them who had a knife, ground and pounding another until he passed out. I saw a role model in her, and thought to myself ‘I want to be able to do that, to get as good as her’.

It’s easy to underestimate how important having a woman role model is, especially in a community where women continue to be marginalised, seeing a woman black belt do her thing is inspiring for newcomers like me.

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She, Fiona, was the first person I saw at my free trial session at Bushin, stretching to an unimaginable degree, whilst casually chowing down on a banana. She was brilliant and alongside the excellent calibre of teaching there, as well as the close-knit community feel to the class, I was hooked. I’ve never looked back since. Bushin has given me everything I craved from martial arts and more, and continues to challenge me to this day.

I have also recently joined London Fight Factory to pursue Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and have been training there since August 2017. My boyfriend has been training at LFF since January 2017 and after visiting the gym to watch him compete, it wasn’t long before I was regularly attending Gi and No-Gi sessions. The community there is incredible – everybody supports one another and you feel uplifted by the camaraderie that founder and head coach Luis Ribeiro “Manxinha” has built into the foundations of the club. BJJ in recent years has attracted many women to join the sport and there is a good number of regular women fighters at LFF. I’ve also fallen in love with BJJ as a martial art: I love being able to use my whole body to engage with my opponent and the mindfulness involved in the practice of feeling and using your body from head-to-toe.

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Having taken ownership of my own martial arts journey, I’ve found a community where women fighters are valued and encouraged, which has given me the confidence to put my whole self into the arts I practice – in Bushin and now in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu too. Being in dojos that respect women and put that respect into practice is unfortunately rare, but I’ve been lucky enough to find two such places, both with communities of people who have become like second families to me.

I don’t want to romanticise my journey, there are sometimes instances of sexism that I encounter, but it is my understanding that this will happen where there are men – and martial arts gyms are full of them. What matters is how the gym deals with these situations, and most importantly that I know I hit hard regardless of what men think.

 

 

Fight Analysis: UFC 217 Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Rose Namajunas

(Image © 2017 UFC)

The MMA strawweight championship fight between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas has been much anticipated, and by no means overshadowed by the other UFC 217 title fight between Michael Bisping and George St-Pierre. Joanna’s title defences are always technically nuanced and powerful, where she has successfully defeated numerous skilled competitors including the likes of Jessica Andrade, Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Rose, sans the widespread reputation and fierce following of Joanna, is formidable in her own right as an exceptionally well-rounded fighter who holds the record for the highest number of submissions within her division, having submitted Michelle Waterson earlier this year.

There has been a huge build up to this fight, no doubt fuelled by the UFC media hype. Independent of that, this is a particularly interesting match-up given the differing skillsets between Joanna and Rose. Joanna is no stranger to fighting other women with a history of successful takedowns, but Rose’s strong Brazilian Jiu Jitsu background has enabled her to achieve multiple takedowns and submissions in her previous fights. In my opinion, their skillsets will really be put to the test when the two women engage in striking and transitioning between standing and groundwork.

The Entry:

Rose’s entry into the Octagon is a picture of stoney calm as the crowd receives her. She appears grounded and focused, with little bravado or interaction with the camera nor the audience around her. Joanna on the other hand, is ever the show-woman, and makes her way to the Octagon with a proud walk, interacting with the camera by throwing fists towards the lens. This is Joanna’s usual demeanour before a fight, but I can’t help but notice that in spite of all this, she looks quite ill. Her eyes are shadowed by large, dark rings, and her face looks gaunt and pale. This seems strange this year in particular, as Joanna has come out of her weight cuts seemingly well and hydrated for each fight.

Round 1:

There’s no touching of the gloves to begin the first round, and both jump straight into the fight -throwing light jabs to judge each other’s distance. Rose is the first of the two to make a leg kick, which puts Joanna on the offensive. Joanna puts forward a few jab-cross combinations, but they fall short of Rose.

In the first few seconds of the fight, it becomes apparent to me that something is not quite right with Joanna’s fighting manner. I’ve seen all her UFC fights and she is known for her long reach and striking precision, but in this particular fight, Joanna seems ‘off’ – she appears unable to judge the distance necessary to land her strikes on Rose.

Rose’s strike combinations make contact from the beginning of the round, but Joanna struggles to reach Rose and only brushes her face a few times. Rose remains calm throughout their initial exchanges; she has a grounded-ness about her that enables her to react levelheadedly and time her strikes for maximum impact. There is a leg kick exchange between them, both landing good kicks, but Joanna misses several body/head kicks. Again, her pace and judgement of distance is unusual given her record for striking precision and explosion. After both pick up the pace with their combinations, Rose throws a heavy jab-cross-hook combination that knocks Joanna to the ground at the 3 minute mark, and gets more crosses in as Joanna descends.

I’ve never seen Joanna knocked down like this before, and Rose takes full advantage of the situation by charging in for the ground-and-pound. Luckily, Joanna shrimps out from the bottom as she is unable to secure a closed guard to protect herself from Rose’s strikes. Rose tries to move into mount while Joanna uses the cage to get to her feet, but Rose has clear shots at Joanna’s face with her left hand. Joanna over-hooks Rose’s right arm to prevent her from taking her back, but Rose eventually breaks away. Again Joanna attempts a kick to the head/body, but misses, still dizzy from the initial takedown.

Joanna leans in to deliver a jab-cross combo, but her reach is not as deep as it usually is and the impact made is minimum. She attempts another body kick, but misses significantly. Rose administers a good hook combination and tags Joanna with a right hook.

With only 2 minutes to go, Rose delivers a devastating left hook, which knocks Joanna to the ground again. Rose manages to bring in a right knee as Joanna falls, which connects with her face as she hits the floor. Rose scrambles to gain top control of Joanna, and delivers a nasty ground-and-pound with heavy overhead strikes. Joanna turtles to protect herself, but then taps out as Rose is raining left hand strikes on her head. The referee calls it – Rose has won by submission as the fight finishes at 3 minutes and 3 seconds of the 1st round.

Post Fight Commentary:

What is impressive in this fight is Rose’s consistency and ease – her technique is well paced, powerful and timed in such a way that it enables her to get to Joanna early in the fight. On the other hand, Joanna is not her usual self – her timing and judgement of distance is completely off. Where she would ordinarily land her signature jab-cross combinations and kicks with ease, Joanna markedly struggles to get close enough to make any significant impact. I have never seen her fight like this before, but I feel that my earlier observations about her gauntness and dark circles may be telling here.

I don’t think this was an issue of Joanna underestimating Rose as a contender to the strawweight belt as some commentators have suggested. However, we have to acknowledge Rose’s prowess and talent in the cage, and I think that her ability to stay calm and stick to her game plan enabled her to secure this fight. At the same time, it is undeniable that something effected Joanna pre-fight that had a detrimental impact on her ability to perform in the Octagon against Rose. She was by no means on top form, and her ability to think clearly in the ring may have been marred by a poorly executed weight cut and rehydration regime for this fight.

Since this fight, Joanna has publicly left her nutrition team, Perfecting Athletes, emphasising that she was put through a poorly executed weight cut prior to her fight against Rose. We all know that weight cutting becomes increasingly difficult the more you do it and the older you get as a fighter, and it seems that Perfecting Athletes did not support Joanna as they should have done for this fight. This is not the first time that Perfecting Athletes has been under fire for poor practices with their athletes, Fightshape nutritionist Tony Ricci argues. In a scathing Instagram post, Tony states that he had ‘never seen an athlete’s Biomotor & Cognitive abilities destroyed so well in only 24 hrs’ due to Perfecting Athletes’s abysmal rehydration protocol and ill-informed ‘holistic approach’ to nutrition for fighters.

I hope to write about this in more detail following Tony and Phil Daru’s (strength and conditioning coach for American Top Team) commentary about Perfecting Athletes on Jason Burgos and Phil’s Fight Strength Podcast. Weight cutting is a contentious practice that draws a lot of criticism from both inside and outside the fighting community. I’d like to write about it from several angles, particularly as weight cutting for women fighters is often entangled with gendered pressures to maintain or obtain a desirable female body type.

Did any of you notice anything off about Joanna’s performance in this fight? Do you anticipate a re-match in the new year? What would you like to see from Rose as the new strawweight champion in the coming months?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Hard Hitters, Rollers, and Wrestlers Unite!

I can’t tell you how nerve-wrackingly exciting it is to put finger-to-keyboard and write my first post for I Hit Hard. I Hit Hard has been a few months in the making now, but I’ve admittedly shied away from writing any content on the website up till this point.

It makes sense to take this as an opportunity to give some context to the concept of I Hit Hard beyond the mission statement on the About page.

‘I Hit Hard’ as a statement has a breadth of history behind it. The point of using the statement ‘I Hit Hard’ is that it embodies not just my history, but the experiences, emotions, and journeys of hundreds of thousands of women martial artists who have been fighting for recognition and respect within the martial arts community. ‘I Hit Hard’ is pride in knowing that we have worked hard to fight hard – we are capable, powerful, strong and enough in our own rights.

Women are hard fighters, and our fights are hard-won – we have had to spend countless hours claiming space for ourselves; shifting mountains to prove that we deserve the space, time and respect that is automatically offered to men.

It’s hard to shift people, let alone narratives about people, but I am adamant that laying claim to our narratives – women’s narratives – within the fighting world, is a giant step in the right direction and a necessary continuation of the fierce assertions made by women martial artists:

We are here, we are fierce, we hit hard, we roll hard, we fight hard and we will not be silenced or ignored.

And that’s where I Hit Hard comes in. I hope it to be a platform where women martial artists can be the writers and producers of content relating to martial arts, whether that be fight analysis on the latest UFC women’s fight, or an interview with a BJJ woman black belt – I Hit Hard is by women, about women, for anyone who wants to understand our stories.